The European Union is willing to sign up to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, after the present one expires at the end of next year, but only if commitments are forthcoming from other major emitters, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says.
Commissioner Hedegaard was in Auckland for the Pacific Islands Forum yesterday.
The EU is under pressure to agree at December's climate change conference in Durban to commit to a second commitment period under Kyoto.
New Zealand has said it remains open to doing the same, but most of the major non-European countries with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, including Japan, Russia and Canada, have made it clear they will not. The United States was never part of it.
"Our own legislation is built totally on Kyoto principles. We have no problem with taking another commitment period," Hedegaard said.
One of its conditions, however, is that other major economies will also have to commit.
"We understand that they might not commit right now in the same way we are," she said.
"But to those who claim if Europe just took a second commitment period Durban would be saved and it would be a huge success, we say: How come? Because ... it wouldn't reduce one extra tonne of CO2."
The reason it mattered to have a second period is that Kyoto is what it had taken the world so many years to agree upon, Hedegaard said.
"It is easy to see where the shortcomings are but if you get rid of that you have to start from scratch and how many years of work will we then lose? That is why we totally accept the logic to have a second commitment period in order to preserve the whole architecture," she said.
"But it only makes sense to keep the architecture alive if some of the other big emitters tell us when they intend to follow. What is the point of keeping something alive if forever it is only limited to 12 or 14 per cent of global emissions? That makes no sense."
The Europeans would press the Americans as hard as they can.
"But the blind can see that in the US right now it is incredibly difficult, with their political atmosphere, and it is not very like they are moving on this issue," she said.
"And while we recognise that there are still a lot of poor people in rural areas, when we talk about countries like China, India and Brazil they are not developing countries in the sense the Solomon Islands or Mali or Malawi are. So I think we need some more distinctions in the debate. The time must end when the emerging economies account for more and more emissions, have more and more of global growth but can continue to hide behind the label of 'developing country'."
Emissions per capita in the European Union have fallen to around 9 tonnes, while China's rapid growth and reliance on coal-fired generation has pushed its up to around 6 tonnes.
Tim Groser, the minister responsible for international climate change negotiations, also dismisses as "soft-headed" the entrenched idea that developed countries have to lead and then miraculously developing countries will follow.
"On the other hand, in the real world, outside the negotiating forum, there is increasing evidence of large developing countries taking action on climate change. China, for instance, has a massive reforestation scheme. It is investing in solar technologies and nuclear energy. And it is talking about putting a carbon price on the energy sector in certain parts of China, as a test."
Groser said it was now certain there would be a gap between the end of Kyoto's first commitment period and any future international deal.
"But the significance of that can easily be overstated," he said.
"Neither Europe nor New Zealand is going to dismantle its emissions trading scheme because of a gap. A gap in commitments does not mean countries are washing their hands of climate change ... and saying 'Ah well, that didn't work'."
It was important to preserve the elements of the Kyoto system like carbon trading and the Clean Development Mechanism under which developing countries can earn credits for climate friendly projects that would not otherwise occur, and emitters in the rich world can lower the cost of meeting their obligations by buying them.